To show your solidarity with Professor Nikos Logothetis please sign this open letter published by neuroscientists at the University of Tubingen.
Last week by Professor Nikos Logothetis of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany, announced in an email to colleagues that he will no longer use non-human primates in his research into the physiology of cognitive processes, and that the work of his team will in future focus on rodent studies. This announcement is a major blow to neuroscience research in Germany, and indeed in the EU as a whole. His decision also raises serious question as to what more the Max Planck Society, and indeed Nikos Logothetis’ fellow scientists in Tubingen and further afield could and should have done to publicly support him and his colleagues over the last few months.
Nikos Logothetis has long been recognized as one of Europe’s top neuroscientists, with a particularly strong track record in improving MRI techniques and technology (see also this Nature review), and has also been one of the few neuroscientists and primate researchers in Germany to regularly engage with the media, and to explain to the public the importance of work being done in the institute and how they ensure the welfare of the research animals.
On 12 September 2014 German animal group Soko Tierschutz, in collaboration with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), published video footage taken by an infiltrator purporting to show mistreatment of monkeys at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. The allegations were investigated by the Max Planck Society and animal protection authorities in the state of Baden-Württemberg, who cleared the institute of any major animal welfare infringements (the MPS decided afterwards to provide additional funding to the institute for minor improvements to one area of animal care provision), while a third investigation by local Tübingen authorities is still ongoing. That the allegations made in the SOKO/BUAV video appear to have been highly misleading should come as no surprise, we have seen only a few weeks ago in Cambridge how BUAV laboratory infiltrators manipulate and distort the facts, and even stage footage of distressed animals, to further their agenda.
Nikos Logothetis has issued a full and detailed rebuttal of the allegations made by the BUAV, which you can download here, pointing out where they had misrepresented veterinary and post operative care. He also discusses how the infiltrator produced footage of monkeys exhibiting stereotypical movement patterns:
Lastly, in their effort to “disclose” the animal suffering in our institute, BUAV/SOKO presented a couple of animals with unusual stereotypical movement patterns, such as animals continuously turning in circles. Such behavior patterns are often observed in animals living in small single-animal cages. Our monkeys are held in a natural group setting with an enriched, stimulating environment. Small cages are only used for short times, i.e. if there is some need to separate an animal from the group, e.g. for medical treatment Such stereotypical movements have not been witnessed in our facilities for over 16 years. They can, however, be induced by any person standing too close to the cages, in particular when the animal is in a small cage and becomes nervous. In the filmed case, such stereotypical movements were almost certainly induced intentionally by the caregiver.
Deliberately inducing distress in lab animals and subsequently using the footage thus obtained in propaganda is of course a familiar animal rights tactic.
Unfortunately, the Max Planck Society (MPS) took almost a week to issue a statement in support of Nikos Logothetis in response to the SOKO/BUAV allegations, too little and far too late to influence most of the media coverage. Likewise the Society for Neuroscience and Federation of European Neuroscience Societies issued a statement of support, but again far too late to impact on the initial coverage. While some news reports in the intervening days were factual and balanced, many were not, and the result is that Nikos Logothetis and his colleagues have been subjected to months of character assassination, hate mail and harassment. Some politicians have since spoken up in support of Nikos Logothetis, but the response of the other Max Planck Institutes in Tubingen left a lot to be desired, with one simply issuing a statement saying they didn’t conduct primate research, and there’s no doubt that this and similar dishonorable behavior by others in the research community contributed to Nikos Logothetis feeling that he and his colleagues had been badly let down.
The MPS has now responded to news of Nikos Logothetis decision to cease primate research with a statement condemning the threats and abuse that Nikos Logothetis and his colleagues received and reiterating their strong support for non-human primate research (in Tubingen and elsewhere).
The Society will continue to conduct research involving nonhuman primates, as it believes that this is still the only way to develop therapeutic approaches for neurological brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and psychiatric disorders as schizophrenia. The Max Planck Society will also promote innovative approaches to research in the field of primate research in the future.
This commitment from the MPS is very welcome, and we hope it is a sign that they are moving towards take a much stronger public position on the importance of animal research, and will in future make greater efforts to engage with the media and the public on this important issue. In the past the MPS has been somewhat lukewarm when it comes to public outreach on potentially controversial topics in research; if nothing else the Tubingen debacle shows that such hesitancy is ultimately counter-productive.
We have written many times on this blog on the need for scientists and supporters of biomedical research – as individuals and as societies and institutions – to speak up for science and animal research, and we stand ready to help and advise those who agree that remaining silent is no longer an option.
We would like to take this opportunity to express our solidarity with Nikos Logothetis and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen. Lets now make sure now that no scientist in Europe ever has to go through what they experienced again!
Speaking of Research